As the highlight of College Affordability Day of Action, college students used a Capitol Hill news conference on Thursday to call on the U.S. Congress to make college more affordable by cutting student interest rates in half and increasing the maximum Pell Grant award.
U.S. Sens. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said they would introduce the College Student Relief Act of 2007 next week.
“The credit card and student loan industry are the two most profitable industries in the country,” said Kennedy. “It’s a scandal, a sham. We want to hear a thunder from students across the country.”
The proposed legislation would cut interest rates from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent over the next five years, boost Pell grants from $4,050 to $5,100, cap loan repayments at 15 percent of a borrower’s discretionary income and reform loan programs to encourage the use of the government’s less expensive Direct Loan Program.
In comparison to 20 years ago, students now need to work longer hours and accumulate more debt to pay for college, said Jennifer Pae, president of the United States Student Association.
“On average, a student graduates with more than $19,300 in loan debt,” she said. “I have a debt of $40,000 … and unfortunately, I am not alone in this struggle.”
Jay Bhatt, president of the American Medical Student Association, said medical student loan debt has shot up by 500 percent in the past five years.
“This is not just an educational problem or an economic problem,” he said. “It is a problem of human rights and social responsibility and it’s time to put the care back in healthcare.”
The joy of teaching does not pay the bills, added Anthony Daniels from the National Education Association. Students are burdened with a $30,000 debt after obtaining a teaching degree, he said, and as a result, one-third of teachers leave the profession within five years.
Across the country, thousands of students participated in the campaign by telling their debt burden stories on Facebook.com and MySpace.com. Students also text-messaged friends to contact their local congressman and distributed reports by the Public Interest Research Group’s Higher Education Project.
“Next week we will vote, and with bipartisan support start reducing the cost of college,” said U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. “But this is only the first step. We need you to participate.”
— By Shilpa Banerji
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